The Vine: August 14, 2013
I have a problem. A kitty-related problem. I have two adult male cats, neutered, 6 years old.
I've had them since they were very young (P since he was a couple of weeks old, and had to do the bottle-feeding thing, and S since he was 3 months old). They do NOT like each other. Or rather, P cannot stand S. They used to get along fairly okay when they were small, but in recent years, P has really developed an intense hatred for S, hissing and scratching and biting his neck to show dominance and such.
Until about 6 months ago, this was less of a problem. I lived in a fairly large apartment, and they had room to lead their own lives. They were inside/outside cats, who went in and out as they pleased. Also, P was not very cuddly with me, and S was, and it seemed to be just the way they were. Then, due to life, I had to leave the large apartment and seek new accommodations, and placed my cats with my grandmother for 5 long months. They were well cared for, though they had to stay outside all the time, which P was very upset about, crying and banging on the door and whatnot. My grandmother (who is a saint) put up with it all and cared for them both.
Fast forward to last week. I have a new apartment — tiny, one room — and I wanted my cats back. Due to logistics, I brought them back one at a time, some days apart. First I brought P, and for a week things were lovely. He was affectionate in a way he hasn't been since he was a kitten, cuddled with me, nuzzled me, and purred all day, every day. Then we brought S in…and it all went to hell. P immediately started with the hissing and scratching — and started avoiding me as well. He won't come to me anymore, and slinks away when I come over and try to stroke him or cuddle him or anything. He is also very restless, and spends entire nights trying to open cupboards/the fridge, scratching the sofa, and such: all things he was always wont to do, but not this obsessively. Sars, he's miserable. S is taking it all in stride — a little less cuddly than usual, but he's still adjusting to being here. I'm afraid I don't give him as much attention as he wants/deserves, though, because whenever I try to give him any, P hisses and walks away and exudes misery to such a degree I just can't.
As I said, the apartment is tiny. It has its own little yard, which they can go out to whenever they want, but there's not enough room to separate them permanently, not in a way that's feasible for two cats who are used to roaming around. I tried giving them each alone time with me, but P isn't interested, because he doesn't want anything to do with me as long as S is around. I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO. P is really really unhappy, and it's making me unhappy, and I miss the cuddly kitty I had when it was just him…and I'm afraid I'm having classical "problem child" responses: I'm focusing on my problem kitty, and I'm neglecting the well-behaved kitty because, well, he's well-behaved.
WHAT DO I DO, SARS??
You used to live in a big apartment, and the cats could go wherever. Then you left them with Grandma, outside, without you. Then you moved them back in with you (and each other), into a single room, a week ago. You did what you had to do, which is fine, but P already hated S, and now you all have to live in one room. It's going to take longer than a week.
As long as neither of them is stress- or territory-peeing anywhere, you start by counting your blessings. Then you buy earplugs and that plug-in Feliway stuff and you give it another week or two. You leave a couple of cupboards open for P, if you can, or create a little lair from an Amazon box where he can hide (put an old shirt in it, and a sprinkle of nip). Find a different place to feed him, whether he's on the counter or in the bathroom or whatever, from where S eats; buy a tall cat "tree," or craft something less dowdy with tips from Lifehacker, to utilize upper wall space you don't really need as a getaway spot for one or both cats.
When P's scratching and howling at night, put the earplugs in and ignore him. Stop reinforcing his negative behavior with any response, be it positive cuddles or negative yelling/spritzing with a water bottle; just stop reacting at all.
If you can find a way to set up a nanny-cam or some other recording device, and leave it on for a few hours some day you're not at home, that will help you decide what to do next, because if you leave and each cat finds a spot to nap, and it's three hours of peaceable snoozing until you get home and all of a sudden "MOM HE WON'T STAY ON HIS SIDE OF THE COUCH MOM MOM MOM OW I'M TELLING SEE MOM"? Hobey and Joe would pull that shit on me all the time, but at the kennel, where they shared a three-by-three cube? Besties. Made a Mobius and passed out. Don't dismiss the idea that this is for your benefit and that as long as you continue to watch the show, P will keep performing it.
But it's a tiny space after six months of dislocation/upheaval, and you don't have to feel guilty about it, but you do have to accept that it takes even cats who don't hate each other a little while to feel at home in a new spot. If another week or ten days goes by and the behavior ramps up (i.e., pee), or the fights become injurious or scary, lock one of them in the bathroom at all times and consult with a vet, but in the meantime, you have to stick to your guns: feed separately, Feliway, and ignore the acting out all the time, every time.
And understand, this is how it is with unrelated same-sex pairs of cats sometimes. It may only get better enough for you to sleep. Before you panic and give one away, try setting the tone with calm and reasonable responses (like: none) for a while, remembering that animals pick up on vibes, and yours may not be helping right now. Deep breaths; see where you are by Labor Day.